Sunday, May 08, 2005

Doctor Mom, Ph.D

Fell into a wormhole. I'm back now.

It's Mother's Day, so let's talk about my mother, shall we?

I suppose most people don't figure out what amazing people their parents are until long after the fact. I suppose I always assumed that everyone's mother was as incredible as mine is. But I've come to understand over the years just how lucky I am.

Here are a few examples... when I was about to turn six, and my sister and brother were about four and two, our family made the move from Sparta, New Jersey, to Tucson, Arizona. My father was going to take a job at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base training pilots in the National Guard while continuing to fly for TWA (who furloughed pilots often.) He may have been laid off from TWA at this point, hell, what do I know? I was five.

Anyway, my mother certainly knew what a change we were in for: the house we had in New Jersey was built into the side of a hill, with woods out back, and deer and bunnies that would come up to my bedroom window (which was ground level, as my room was on the lowest floor that was partly underground.) We went swimming in Lake Mohawk; my mother took part in the local Geranium Festival. There was snow in winter, with sledding and snowmen and scooping snow off the deck to put in the ice-cream maker for winter ice cream. Arizona was going to be very, very, very different.

So, she got hold of the blueprints for the house we were moving into (a new development which was, at that time, on the far northwest side of Tucson.) She laid it out on my dad's rumpus-room bar (this was the 70s) and gathered us all around. We had those little Fisher-Price people - one representing each of us in the family - and we played games, "exploring" the house like a treasure map, acting out our new life in our home-soon-to-be. I think we even picked out our rooms. So, when we finally got to Tucson (like the surface of Mars compared to the snowy East Coast we had left), we knew our way around the house already. It was familiar, and welcoming. Plus, I got the best room.

There were other difficulties involved in being the wife of an airline pilot who was often left to raise three children on her own for long stretches at a time. The three of us came down with chicken pox at the same time - remember, we're talking three kids under the age of five. I don't know how she didn't go insane. I remember being plunked into cornstarch baths and trying my best not to scratch. I'm sure it was a delightful time.

My mother also had to shepherd us on flights - we could travel on passes since we were an airline family, but it meant that we were always on standby. There were long layovers in St. Louis - seven, eight, nine hours - where a lesser person might have cracked. But, we had fun.

On some nights when my father was away, my mother would bring us all into their room, lit only by an oil lamp, and we would play "Poor Family" or "Farm Family" (this was during the era of "Little House on the Prairie"'s popularity. We lie there, spinning stories in the darkness about what chores we'd done that day, looking at the flickering shadows of the lamp on the ceiling.

My mother was also resourceful when it came to holidays. My father often had to fly on holidays, since he was low in seniority. When my father would have to be away on Christmas, my mother figured that, hey, kids our age don't know calendar dates. Who says Christmas is tomorrow? Maybe this year, Christmas happens a few days late. So, all we knew was that Santa took a while to get around to us (I mean, he does have a lot to do) but our dad always managed to be home when Santa had made his delivery.

When my parents decided to divorce when I was around nine, they did it with a minimum of stress. We all moved: we kids moved with our mom to a small townhouse complex with a playground and a pool, right across the street from our new school. My father moved into a swingin' bachelor condo complete with bead curtain, within walking distance. We could go home to either place after school. It was like having two different worlds to live in: with my mom, there was the comfort and security of all our regular toys and games and food, while at my dad's, there was Koogle and Kelloggs Variety Pack and playing poker and board game marathons. It worked out well.

During this time, my mother managed to get her Ph.D while at the same time working constantly and managing to raise the three of us. She would be working on her Olivetti typewriter, intently crafting her dissertation, and we knew this was Quiet Time. The townhouse we lived in was two stories; a heavy footfall on the second floor made quite a bumping sound below. My mother was understandably sensitive to noise as she tried to keep her concentration; sometimes we weren't very helpful. If my sister and I were playing upstairs and dropped a book or something, we would freeze: we knew that within seconds we would hear a familiar, desperate cry from downstairs:

"WHO'S JUMPING???!!!"

".... nobody."

I wonder if she imagined that we were gleefully leaping on and off the beds, madcap hooligans trying to drive her nuts. Okay, sometimes we were. Sometimes.

I didn't move out of that house until my sophomore year of college. When I got into my teens, my mother replaced my old bed with a more grownup leather pull-out couch, which I was very proud of. When it was pulled out, there was a space underneath the mattress, where it ordinarily would fold into, which seemed perfect for hiding anything that I might want to keep out of sight. It became the repository for some publications of an adult nature, shall we say. Although I had a constant string of girlfriends, I was somehow compelled to sneak out and buy the occasional copy of Honcho. Just for research, you know.

My mother, who is extremely organized, occasionally would lose her patience with the post-tornado appearance of my room, and would straighten it up. Thus, I would come home to find the debris back in its place, my bed made, and on the bedside table, neatly piled issues of Honcho, BlueBoy, and Inches.

And she never said a thing about it.

Well, there was one time... I think we were getting groceries out of the trunk, and she said something to me like, "Okay, I just have to ask. Pornography: what's the attraction? I wondered this with your father, too." This was in a completely normal tone of voice, as though she had asked me if we remembered to get the kind of orange juice that had extra pulp.

I don't know what I answered. It's hard to speak when you're swallowing your tongue.

I'm realizing that this post might go on for pages and pages if I wrote about all the reasons why my mother is an outstanding person. It's not just to do with her mothering skills - her career has literally taken her around the globe. She has a enthusiasm for adventure and exploration that I admire. She's brilliant (I once checked her Ph.D dissertation out of the library and tried to read it. It's a mindblower when you realize just how incredibly, wildly, Einstein-ian-ly smart your mother is.) She taught me to cook; she thought every word I ever scribbled on a napkin was worth exclaiming over; she has come to every show I've written and has been a tireless cheerleader and also a thoughtful and insightful critic in the best sense.

Of course that's only a very small part of the story. She should write her life story someday. I hope she does.

Barbara, you're one hell of a person. We are lucky to have you in our lives.

7 Comments:

Blogger David said...

I second that emotion!

6:08 AM  
Blogger Hanuman1960 said...

Your mother sounds like a wonderful lady! Obviously the apple didn't fall far from the tree! :)

6:30 AM  
Blogger Jason Rohrblogger said...

Hear, hear! I love me some Dr. Hartmann, as well.

9:50 AM  
Blogger Rindy said...

Oh yes. Lucky hardly even begins to describe it. I was just thinking the other day about our long car trips to Florida to visit Nana and Papa. Before iPods, before DVD players mounted in minivans. And not only did nobody kill anybody, it was always an adventure, where even things like bad truck-stop soup or taking 3 days to get across Texas became funny, something to joke about and remember.

And now, if something awful happens and we're stuck out in the middle of nowhere, we can just call her, and there she is saying "Come on over." There's always another place set at her table.

10:18 AM  
Blogger Zenchick said...

she taught you how to cook?
Someone give that woman an award.

12:24 PM  
Blogger Jeff said...

That was marvelous...
You're such a good son to such a remarkable mother.

7:07 AM  
Anonymous eyduck said...

I love awesome moms... And people who love their awesome moms... awesome.

2:32 PM  

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